A clergyman recounted the horror of a massacre of 101 men and the mutilation of a child soldier by rebels in Sierra Leone when he testified Tuesday in the war crimes trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor.
Taylor, 59, the first former African head of state to be tried by an international court, is accused of orchestrating rape, murder and mutilation in Sierra Leone from his presidential palace in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia. He has pleaded not guilty to all 11 charges.
Speaking calmly and often gesturing with his hands, clergyman Alex Tamba Teh, 47, said Tuesday that he was among some 250 civilians captured by rebel forces known as the Junta in April 1998 in the diamond mining district of Kono.
He said the men were separated from the women and children and eventually were taken from a mosque to a nearby shelter. There, a rebel commander known as Rocky told the pastor to pray for his fellow captives and then mowed them all down with a machine gun, Tamba Teh testified.
‘Instructions that they be decapitated’
Rocky later told another commander called Rambo that he had killed 101 men — and the horror had only just begun.
“After he had killed the civilians ... he gave instructions that they be decapitated,” Tamba Teh told the three-judge tribunal.
The beheadings were carried out by a so-called Small Boys Unit of child soldiers — some of them too tiny to lift the guns they were dragging around.
A little later, an even smaller boy — screaming and asking what he had done wrong — was dragged to a log. The other boys pinned down his arms and legs and hacked off his hands and feet with machetes.
After the mutilation, they grabbed the boy by the stumps, Tamba Teh said. “They were swinging him. They threw him over into a toilet pit. I saw it myself. They boy was screaming, shouting, crying.”
Such mutilations were a grisly trademark of the 10-year civil war in Sierra Leone, and Taylor is accused of arming and supporting many of the rebels responsible.
No link drawn with Taylor
Tamba Teh did not draw any link between the atrocity and Taylor, who sat calmly throughout the testimony, taking notes and sipping water.
Tamba Teh said Rocky, who defied an order to kill the clergyman, sent him back to Rambo. Rambo then staged a macabre vote among 30 commanders on whether the pastor should live or die. The vote was split 15-15 until one more commander arrived, voting to spare Tamba Teh.
He said he was then taken to a rebel camp where captured women — kept as sex slaves — were repeatedly raped and forced to forage for food.
Prisoners also had the acronyms of the rebel groups RUF and AFRC carved on their chests and backs, Tamba Teh said, explaining that it prevented the captives from fleeing because they would be killed by enemy rebels if found with such markings.
Tamba Teh said he later was transferred to a camp where a commander smashed out his front teeth with the barrel of a gun. Tamba Teh opened his mouth, removed a denture and lifted his lips to show the court his missing teeth.
Diamond fields a central issue
Earlier Tuesday, judges allowed into evidence video of victims telling of being sexually assaulted or dismembered by rebels plundering West African diamond fields.
The ruling, overriding defense objections, capped the testimony of the first witness in the trial, a diamond expert who said Sierra Leone rebels backed by Taylor used slave labor to dig up diamonds worth between $60 million and $125 million a year, and terrorized the population to assert their control of the fields.
Prosecutors allege that diamonds from Sierra Leone were smuggled through Liberia, and Taylor used the proceeds to buy arms and ammunition for the rebels — earning them the name “blood diamonds.”
Taylor “was involved in both weapons and diamonds,” said the Canadian expert, Ian Smillie.
Under cross-examination, Smillie denied he was “hostile” toward Taylor. “We felt sorry for him. He had squandered his opportunity to turn Liberia from war to peace. We felt badly for Liberia and sorry that it had missed that opportunity.”
Taylor’s trial resumed Monday after a six-month recess. It was adjourned last June after a chaotic opening day during which Taylor boycotted the proceedings and fired his lawyer.